By Lerato Mensah-Aborampah, Lesotho
I could barely focus on anything when I got home on Monday, after that somewhat tense conversation with Palesa on the bench.
The stitching process is taking longer than I thought. I still got a number of loose threads.
What in the world was she talking about? What happened at her old school? Whatever it is, my mind has not been able to let it go.
Images linger a lot in my mind. I visualise, in detail, almost everything I hear and think. I barely forget a person’s facial expressions. I barely forget the details of a picture I lay my eyes on. Maybe that’s why I draw sometimes. Last evening, when I was doing some mathematics on the veranda, I had a rather unsettling image of Palesa – instead of flesh, she was made of fabric- a rough, off-white calico fabric but most of its threads were ripped out and hanging loosely, so that they swayed at the slightest brush of air. It stuck with so much, I had to draw it out. I sketched the image in pencil at the back of my Math exercise book until my sister shouted at me to come into the house.
Palesa avoided me the whole of Tuesday. I know because I saw her change path when she saw TK, Katleho and I walking together in her direction at break time. Katleho and TK eyed each other curiously but for some reason, did not say anything. I know she avoided me because she chose to arrive right before Literature class started, so that when she entered, she went straight to her desk. And I barely saw her the whole of Wednesday.
“Raps,” Katleho says as we walk towards the gate for the bus. It is Thursday afternoon. It is a bit cloudy.
I am exhausted from soccer practice. Katleho is from rugby. TK did not come to school today. Katleho and I both know that it is because he had a big fight with his father about his school work. He never comes to school when he has fought with his old man. We usually just tell people that he is sick because naturally, everybody notices when TK is not at school and naturally, everybody asks us.
“What was that about, the other day?” Katleho asks.
“Eng?” I ask back.
“Come on, mfethu, that thing with your girl, her turning around when she saw us?”
“My girl? “ I laugh, “ska ntloaela! Don’t call her that uena monna!”
I kick his leg and he shoves me back violently and I almost fall. I rush back to his neck and he elbows my stomach in defence. This is followed by seconds of tackling and our bags falling to the ground.
“Ntlohele!” he shouts, finally giving in to my playful strangle. I release him and we laugh.
“Should we really be in Form 5?” Katleho laughs as we pick up our school bags and sports kits from the ground.
“At this rate, I’m not so sure,” I reply, laughing at our seemingly immature behaviour but also glad that our playful fight has created a distraction so I don’t have to answer the Plesa question.
“Yeah no, its fine mfethu! You will tell me about her tomorrow when TK is here. Besides, who better to laugh at you than TK and me combined?!”
“Akha!” I reply casually, waving him away.
Casually. There is honestly nothing casual about this in my mind. I have been thinking about her since Monday. And now, I can’t help but feel that there is nothing casual about the apparent mystery around her.
Katleho and I board the school bus and make our way through the narrow aisle towards the back seats. I almost stop when I see her. Palesa Tefo, at the corner of the back seat, her head buried in a large novel. Katleho, who is in front of me, turns back and flashes an annoying grin. I had always noticed that she did not take the school bus on Thursdays but it seems she does, sometimes.
“Ey yo, Motšoane!” he shouts at a classmate sitting somewhere in the middle seats. He punches me on my stomach, shoves me aside and heads out of the back seat. Idiot! I think. If only he knew that today, I do not want to speak to her. Maybe I want to but I just do not know how to. But I cannot turn back now because she has already seen me.
“Ah, hey Rapelang,” she smiles weakly, placing strand of black yarn between the pages as she closes the book. She shifts slightly only to show that I can sit beside her. I immediately notice her eye bags and slightly swollen eyes. I press my knuckles nervously.
I sit beside her but not so close for our arms to touch.
“Hey,” I reply smiling, tilting to her side so I can look at her. I am almost shaken by these bags under her eyes. I might as well talk to her. There is no running from this. There is no running from Palesa Tefo.
“You look like you have had a chunky share of crying Palesa, what’s up?” I find myself having said. I regret this seconds later, realising that maybe I should have allowed us a reasonable amount of small talk.
She runs her fingers along her under-eyes and quickly looks away. “Are they that swollen?” she says in low voice.
I nod quietly.
“Don’t worry,” she makes a tight smile, “I am feeling better than I look.”
I attempt a warm smile but I can see the little, almost unnoticeable tremble on her lower lip which she quickly bites nervously. Asking her why she has been crying is prying. So I will not ask. The bus starts moving slowly.
“Bra Stacie! Bra Stacie! He! Ho! He! Ho!”
A few students shout almost fanatically outside the bus and it stops as they climb into the bus.
“I will have grey hair from always telling you children to be on time! Helek!” Bra Stacie shouts.
“We are sorry Bra Stacie! We are sorry!” they shout in unison, swallowing giggles.
“I have children of my own waiting at home! Or do you want to raise them with me?!”
Most students in the bus laugh under their breaths. Palesa and I too. We all think Bra Stacie sounds funny when he is angry.
“You avoided me the whole of yesterday,” I say, turning back to look at her.
“Did I?” she laughs, evidently feigning surprise “what makes you think so?”
“Who do you think I hung out with for ten minutes before Literature starts?” I grin.
She smiles quietly and says nothing.
“It’s fine though, you don’t explain yourself to me- and about the whole Monday thing, Palesa-”
She shifts uneasily.
“The Monday thing-” she says quietly, “I don’t imagine you can forget about it, can you?”
I shake my head quietly, in honesty.
“Look, I just wanted to say, I won’t ask you about your past again. I obviously don’t know what happened but I get that you are trying to start over?”
She tries to hide a sigh and nods silently.
I see it now. More clearly than before. Her eyes fail to hide a sadness that I may never know about. It worries me more than I ever thought it would. Palesa Tefo, why do you look so sad?
“The stitching process,” I say carefully, treading only lightly to the Monday conversation, “whatever it is- it’s okay that it takes as long a time as it should, okay?”
She looks at me wide-eyed. I see her raise her lips like she is about to say something. Then she presses her lips and only nods.
We keep silent for some seconds, during which, I notice her face loosen and a little smile form at the corner of her lips.
“One question though,” I laugh, breaking the silence and hoping to lighten the heavy air around us, “are you still my tutee? Are you still willing to be my tutee?”
She laughs a little.
“Ha! Dude, I would be insane to back out now! Do I look like I’m capable of even getting a C in Chemistry on my own?” she smiles, “besides, you are okay for company, Rapelang, I think so.”
“Good. Because I know one way I am going to explain some things better to you.”
“Look at you! You are taking this tutoring more seriously than I am. You been thinking about bo-lesson plans!”
“You could say that,” I grin. I want to add that honestly, it’s her that I have been thinking about but I do not dare say this.
“So what do you have mind my tutor?” she leans in slightly.
“Analogies, “I say, “scientific analogies,”
“Okay, it’s a thing I do, so sometimes I use scientific theories and concepts to explain real life situations that seem totally irrelevant, or vice versa,”
She raises an eyebrow and stares at me.
“You speaking Greek dude, give me an example,” she laughs.
“Hmm, an example- let’s see,” I am trying to remember some of the oldest analogies I made, “ah- okay. It’s a Physics example though. So you know how when gravitational force and air resistance are equal, the falling object begins falling at a constant velocity- so there is no change in velocity-no acceleration,”
“Aha?” she says quietly, looking at me intently, her brows furrowed.
“It is a bit like how I think of my mother sometimes- how she works for my sister and I. Sometimes she keeps putting in the same efforts but keeps getting the same resistance, until she gets to a point where neither her efforts nor the things that hinder her efforts matter. Then that is when the sameness starts- the constancy. A life that just keeps going. And going. And going. Waking up. Going to work. Waking up. Going to work. And this goes on and on just like the straight line for constant velocity on the displacement-time graph-”
I finish and search her face for her response. She stares at me, blankly and then breaks into a little laugh.
“Eiza, you think it’s stupid, don’t you?” I laugh.
“No,” she says, “not stupid- maybe strange. And I mean, it is bit of a contestable analogy but I like it, and I hear you -I do,”
“It’s stupid, I know,” I laugh, “but it makes studying just a bit more tolerable for me, “
“Nerd!” she laughs, narrowing her eyes at me and shaking her head.
“Come on now!”
“You did say you like visual forms of storytelling,” she says, imitating my deep voice. “I like your deep voice by the way, I’m not mocking you,” she smiles.
I like it when she smiles.
“It will be good, trust me, you will never forget all these abstract chemistry nonsense if you remember them through more tangible things.”
And it might be good for you, I add in my mind, to talk.
“Using scientific theories and concepts to explain real irrelevant life situations,” Palesa Tefo says aloud, echoing my words slowly to herself, “you are sort of weird, Rapelang.”
I notice a thoughtful smile form on her face.
Do you see what I am doing here, Palesa Tefo? I think to myself, smiling inwardly, Do you? Don’t do that stitching process alone.